Why the GOP Letter to Iran Is Such a Huge Major Deal

BreakingModern — Today’s GOP letter to Iran makes the so-called “Axis of Evil” look cute and cuddly by comparison. Why is one U.S. political party so determined to get in the way of the other’s nuke-limiting deal with Iran? Ted Rall explains.

In a supremely strange move this week, 47 Republican senators took the unprecedented step of directly writing the leader of a foreign government in order to get in the way of a U.S. president’s foreign policy talks with it. This is even though the U.S. constitution, as any ninth grader has learned in social studies, puts a sitting U.S. president in charge of foreign policy.

In its letter to the Iranian government, the GOP senators said: Don’t bother cutting a deal with President Obama and the United States right now. Because, it said, the next “Republican president” will just reverse any agreement “with the stroke of a pen.”

This astounded news watchers around the world. Here’s why this development is so disturbing and why you should follow these developments closely.

"-- دكتر ظريف-- در كنار حجت الاسلام صالحي منش 2014-03-27 04-15" by User:Didehban - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via WMC.

“– دكتر ظريف– در كنار حجت الاسلام صالحي منش 2014-03-27 04-15″ by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif: by Didehban – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, WMC

But first, let’s back up and look at the Iranian reaction to the letter. It certainly didn’t do much to dissuade Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif from continuing with U.S. talks to limit nuclear weapons production in Iran.

In a public statement, Zarif said he wasn’t buying it, but that he now has a stronger understanding of constitutional separation of powers under the American system than the signatories of the letter do.

Confused in the USA

As American legal scholars and political analysts struggle to get their heads around the GOP letter and its implications, Iran’s Zarif offered some theories. The Republican senators must “not understand international law,” said Zarif, a professor of international law. They must not understand the U.S. constitution, either. They are not “fully cognizant of the nuances of their own constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.”

Ouch. And he’s right, as any ninth grader making a B in the social studies could tell you straight away.

Under law and by custom, the executive branch is in charge of foreign policy – including treaty negotiations, which this is not.

While the Senate specifically, and the legislative branch in general, have a consulting role to play, especially in the ratification of treaties, the kind of agreement being contemplated between Obama and Iran is not one of them. In fact, President Bush arrived at a similar deal with Libya, which did not require congressional consent.

Furthermore, presidents historically honor their predecessor’s international promises regardless of their political party. They have to, for all the obvious reasons.

So, bottom line, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’s notorious “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” plan will have to wait.

A Sign of Political Decline?

U.S. lawmakers, for the first time anyone can remember, have publicly set out to undermine a sitting president during talks with a longtime adversary. These talks are astounding.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden accurately characterized the implications in this statement:

“This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that our commander in chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments — a message that is as false as it is dangerous.”

Of all people, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, got right to the heart of the issue.

“The GOP letter, the Ayatollah said, is “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.”

Don’t All Countries Stick to Foreign Commitments Post Elections?

Forgotten in this tempest of partisan lunacy is a fact alluded to in Khamenei’s statement: “All countries, according to the international norms, remain faithful to their commitments even after their governments change.”

Iran knows this well. Why? Because if Iran hadn’t followed such “international norms,” it would be free to develop any nuclear weapons program they felt like, no matter what it had agreed to in the past. And that means there would never be grounds for the United States or any other country to impose economic sanctions on Iran.

This is why international observers in the U.S., Europe and in the Middle East are so blown away by the GOP letter.

The agreement that prohibits an Iranian nuclear weapons program is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran signed it in 1968, and agreed to an inspections regime in 1974.

Ah, but that was under the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

The Shah was deposed in the 1979 Islamic revolution. The new government, the one currently led by Ayatollah Khamenei, nevertheless agreed to honor the international agreements signed by its predecessor, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

And this makes the Republican letter still more outrageous.

Why You Should Care

What you are watching now is a most-bizarre spectacle. You’ve got  the United States playing holier than thou, screaming to high heavens that Iran can’t be trusted and that the country poses a grave danger of developing nuclear weapons that it will sell or fire at Israel or even at us.

Yet Iran is and has been honoring a nuclear treaty signed by an entirely different government, one that was overthrown back in 1979.

But now you have 47 lawmakers contacting the leader of a foreign government directly, saying that, unlike Iran, anything the president negotiates with foreign countries becomes null and void when he leaves office. And this is not even after a full-fledged revolution, mind you, but just after an election.

Whatever moral high ground the United States once held on the international stage is collapsing into a deep, deep valley. I’ll be watching these developments for you in the days and weeks to come. 

For BMod, I’m Ted Rall.

Ted Rall

Author: Ted Rall

Based in New York, Ted Rall is an award-winning political cartoonist, essayist and Pulitzer Prize finalist. He covers news, justice, music and privacy for BreakingModern. Follow him @TedRall.

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1 Comment


  1. It’s just really sad we live in a time of total partisanship. If one party said, “Puppies are cute!” The other party would start kicking puppies. This mixed with the greed of the politicians, some of them having received large chunks of cash from arms industry makes for scary times.

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